After more than four days of turbulent demonstrations by Israeli settlers – and supportive protest in New York City – Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was exasperated.
He lambasted both the settlers and their American Jewish supporters.
“I don’t understand American Jews. They want to sit in Brooklyn and defend Hebron and Shechem from there?” Peres said last week at a meeting here with Jewish journalists. The meeting took place on the day settlers declared a temporary halt to their protests until the end of the Tisha B’Av fast.
The settler demonstrations dominated Israeli headlines during a week marked by daily confrontations between Israeli security forces and the settlers.
In a massive display of civil disobedience, settlers occupied one West Bank hillside after another to underscore their unwavering opposition to any extension of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank.
Israeli security forces, given stern orders by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to protect to rule of law, removed the settlers from the hillsides, detaining hundreds of them in jails.
Some of the settlers compared their protests to the Palestinian uprising, the intifada. Similar rhetoric was used in the New York solidarity protest.
Asked about the New York demonstrators’ threat to launch an intifada in New York, Peres brushed it aside with a smile.
“They can start an intifada there, and let the American authorities deal with it.” he said.
But Peres became more grim when discussing the demonstrators in Israel.
“They are a group of people who are undermining the democratic system and the rule of law,” Peres said. “This government is not only defending its own policies, but the very rule of law and the democratic nature of Israel.”
He accused the settlers of “attempting to establish an alternative government.”
Peres said the government was open to dialogue with the settlers and that whenever they wanted to meet with Rabin or himself they would receive a positive response.
“But they don’t want a dialogue,” he added. “They say, `In order to preserve the unity of our people, you must do as we say.’ This is not democracy.”
The foreign minister also condemned settlers who were putting their children in the front lines during the clashes with security forces.
“It’s a terrible thing, bringing their children to the hills. To confront children with soldiers is scandalous,” Peres said. “It’s unfair to the children, and it’s unfair to the soldiers. A 5-year-old child cannot understand what this is all about.”